I have never in my life met a physician who woke up in the morning hoping that his patients hated him. I don’t know of any doctors who want their patients to have a terrible experience in their hospital, emergency department, or clinic. Yet, every time I am at a patient experience conference, the physicians there are seen as unicorns because they are actively engaged in improving patient experience. The question I hear most often from others involved in service excellence is, “how do we get more doctors to act like you?”
A question I ponder often is, if physicians care about the well-being of their patients so much, why are we having such a hard time getting physician buy-in on patient experience initiatives? If the physicians are already halfway there because they inherently deeply about the well-being of their patients, then why is this so hard!?!?!
I think it’s time that we as patient experience professionals engage in some serious introspection about how we are messaging the importance of patient experience to our physicians. What are your goals as a patient experience leader? What are the directives being handed down to you by hospital leadership? Do you want satisfied patients? Or do you want compassionate, empathetic and streamlined care? Are you leading every discussion about patient experience with stats, survey scores and percentiles? Does your health system make the physicians feel like they are terrible at providing a consistent and excellent experience to their patients without acknowledging just how incredibly complex it can be to actually do so? Are you celebrating the physicians who are doing well?
My suggestion is, you need to drop the term “satisfaction” from your vocabulary. That is not what any of us are trying to achieve. “Satisfaction” or mention of survey data makes doctors go insane. There is no partnership there. No inspiration. No buy-in. Just an adversarial relationship that makes physicians feel like leadership just doesn’t get it. Instead, focus on “experience.” Focus on communication. Inspire physicians with stories – using positive reinforcement to recognize the times when a patient’s experience was incredible. Physicians believe in a duty to their patients. The experience a patient has is the only 100% frequency event in our health systems. Care that does not involve compassion, empathy, and communication is not care at all. In my dream scenario, we are never mentioning satisfaction or scores to our doctors. Yes, the surveys need to continue, but should be monitored in the background by service excellence departments. If we engage our doctors, my hope is the rest will take care of itself.
My fear is that as patient experience continues to evolve, and as the pendulum continues to swing more towards “Patients First,” “All For You,” and other similar mantras, that we will fail to acknowledge just how difficult this endeavor is for our physicians. Sometimes it feels as if everyone is trying to push the patient experience boulder to the top of the mountain, but everyone is pushing in a different direction. If there were a simple solution, we’d all be doing it already. The key to organizational change is for you as a leader to have a clear goal, clearly delineate a path for your physicians to follow, and then you continue to drive them down that path in order to achieve sustainability. As we continue to look at ways to improve the consistency of physician communication and compassion, I also urge patient experience professionals to look within – how consistent and compassionate is your messaging to your physicians?
Justin Bright, M.D. is the Patient Experience Champion at Henry Ford Hospital in the Department of Emergency Medicine.